Living In Croatia: Things You Need To Know Before You Move To Croatia

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Living In Croatia: Things You Need To Know Before You Move To Croatia

It’s not very hard to fall in love with Croatia – it’s a very beautiful place. Like all countries in the world, there are pros and cons to moving to Croatia. I know, I have been living here (from Australia for 6.5 years)

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As a new expat in Croatia, my guess is that you will love:

Pros Of Living In Croatia

Family Photo Shot - Nin Croatia
We’ve been living in Croatia for 6 years.
  • The relaxed lifestyle
  • The beautiful environment
  • The healthy food
  • The community spirit
  • So much sunshine and generally great weather, even in winter time in many parts of the country
  • Croatia’s proximity to the rest of Europe is great for traveling

Cons Of Living In Croatia

Begonja Family. Mate, Sj, Roko, Vladimir - Family Photo Shot6

These are relative to where you’re from and your current expectations. For us they were and are;

  • Tough economic climate. Finding, and keeping work outside the summer season is very difficult
  • The cost of living (from a Croatian wage) is very high. If however, you have a foreign income or savings, then the cost of living is okay.
  • The bureaucracy. This factor is the most difficult to accept. Things take a LONG time to be processed and an even longer time to be sure that you’ve actually completed the steps required. Simple tasks like submitting a visa application will take weeks, if not months of running around.
  • Outside of summer, there is a reduced capacity for places to eat and things to do if you are living on the Dalmatian Coast, and so I always advise people that you need to be mindful of what you plan to do in the colder months. Travel, freelance work, a hobby something to keep you busy. Of course, if you have children, then they keep you busy.
expat in croatia insurance hzzo logo
Living in Croatia: HZZO Insurance is a must

4 Quick And Simple Things You Need To Know If You’re Moving To Croatia

  1. Visa – Depending on where you come from you may need a visa. You will need to check the visa requirements with your local Croatian embassy. If you need a visa, you can apply at the Croatian Embassy in your country. They will have an application form and explain to you the identification required. It is worth mentioning that with things like birth, wedding, etc. certificates, they need to be with an issue date of fewer than 6 months. If you have a Croatian background/spouse, you can apply for your visa at the police station when you arrive in Croatia. You will need a heap of identification and proof of address.
  2. Health Insurance – If you are living in Croatia it is mandatory to have Health Insurance. Croatia has one health insurer called HZZO which is a government organization. Anyone living in the country must pay health insurance. The process of organizing this was extremely slow and painful for us but we got there in the end. You will have to organise this once you arrive.
  3. Jobs – Jobs are hard to come by and if you do manage to get a job the pay rates in Croatia are relatively low.
  4. Language – Most young people speak English; however you will find the older generation don’t really speak English. Learning the language can be challenging; however, it is worth learning Croatian.

As someone married to a Croatian, I felt I adjusted well living in Croatia However I have spoken to many expats before me who went back ‘home’ as the culture shock, and difficult working conditions were too much.

Extra Tips For Moving To Croatia – Real Lessons Learned From 6 Years Of Living In Croatia

Sigh, I really do get sick of being asked this question, because moving to Croatia is not the same for everyone.

That said, if you are planning to move to Croatia, do not take advice from anyone who does not live in Croatia 24/7 – 365 days a year – for at least a full year.

Anything less than a year (or two or three) they are too fresh to really know.

If they do not live here, 365 days a year, they have a skewed view of real life here.

I would say you REALLY need to be prepared. Come for at least six months, and try it out, and do not come when its summer, sunny and everyone has pockets full of cash.

Come between November and April when the tourism, and apartment money has been spent, and the weather is less than outstanding. Keep your eyes open, and be honest with yourself.

Don’t quit your job, pack a shipping container or anything until you really know what you are in for. I have spoken to many people who returned after a failed attempt, and almost always they returned home, as Croatia did not meet their unrealistic expectations about finding work, cost of living, etc.

Remind yourself that there is a reason that hundreds and thousands of Croats have moved abroad these past few years. This country can be a tricky place to live and survive – it is not for everyone.

Also, join all of the ‘expats in (city)’ facebook groups (see below for the list of them), and start making connections with others who have situations like yours. Just don’t take anything that one person says as gospel — not even mine.

How to Get from Split to Zadar Croatia

Getting a Croatian visa

Oh god, what a head fuck.

Getting a visa as a foreigner in Croatia is like winning a fluffy toy at the carnival – sure it can be achieved, but it ain’t easy, and will take many attempts. The only difference is it is free.

Oh wait, it is only free so long as you are from the EU. If not be prepared to fork out thousands of Kune for the mandatory health insurance back payment fees. When you go to your local Hrvatski Zavod Za Zdravstveno Osiguranje (HZZO) office, you’ll discover that you have to pay for the 12 months you were not in the country. Ours was over 4,000 kuna each.

The legislation is changing all the time, so be sure to ask at your the Croatian embassy where you live – more than once. But, be warned most embassies are hopeless. They don’t always know the current legislation, and what I have heard from many people over the years – many embassies just do not want to deal with helping new people move back to the motherland. Head straight to the Ministry of Police (MUP) when you arrive and start the lengthy process of getting your visa.

While we are on the topic of the MUP, be and sure to take someone with you who speaks Croatian fluently. Even in the foreigner’s line, getting an English speaking staff member is not something that is always possible – and if it’s like the one in Zadar, the service will also be provided without a hint of trying to speak English.

My recent trip there to inquire about getting my citizenship was met with a deathly look of disgust, the women at the counter had to ask a colleague what the process was – and all they could agree on was that I should just come back when it expires and see what the rules are then.

I was told five years ago, that once I made it to the 5-year mark, I could come back to MUP  and would be given my Croatian citizenship. But, now I am not sure. So, back I go in a few months to see what rules apply and or have changed now. I am mentally preparing to take the citizenship test. 

KRKA - Day Trip From Split

Language

If you don’t speak Croatian, life will be tough. I know that everyone says that Croatians speak English – and they do, but not in all cases.

You’ll be able to communicate with the majority of people that are younger than 40. But even then, maybe the doctor just will refuse, and you’ll find yourself explaining your symptoms with hand gestures.

Croatian is a damn hard language to learn and even harder to speak correctly. Why must there be so many crazy grammar rules? I mean, seven noun declensions……

Don’t leave it too late to take lessons, and get help. Trust me you’ll need it.

I restarted my Croatian lessons, and can truly say that life here would have been even tougher had I not taken them. Read more about my online lessons here.

Money

The salaries in Croatia very low when compared to most developed nations. Once you pay bills, rent an apartment, and buy food – not much is left over.

Now, on the other hand, if you have a salary from abroad, you’ll live like a King or Queen. If you plan to work local, you’ll have to live like a local.

Eating out, traveling, or paying for services like a babysitter are affordable, so long as you earn more than minimum wage (or have those dollars from aboard on hand), otherwise you’ll be hard-pressed to get someone to look after your child while you work, so you’ll need to enroll your kids in a kindergarten.

Want a job as soon as you arrive? Good luck. It’s not as easy as you think. Make your own plans to freelance or set up your own business if you need money straight away. Or else have savings to get you by until you can find work.

Travel Tips First Time to Croatia - Zadar Croatia Travel Blog

Schools

If you plan to move to Croatia with school-age children, then you’ll be happy to know that a public education in Croatia is (almost) free. Just be sure to have money for lots of books, and appropriate school clothing as there are no school uniforms.

Kindergarten (suitable for ages 1-6) is not mandatory, and while this is subsidized, it is not free and will set you back at least 600 kune a month, up to several thousand if you plan to go to the Britsih kindergarten in Zagreb.

Primary school education is of course, compulsory – that begins at seven years of age.

The secondary education system is vastly different from what I am used to in Australia, and have yet to master the complexities of it – so be sure to ask people with kids the same age as yours how it all works.

Tips for Travel to Croatia: Hvar Island
Hvar Island

Healthcare

Hmm, this one is tricky.

You can obtain primary healthcare all over the county no matter where you live. You’ll just wait. And wait, and wait. I have heard of people wait 6-12 months for an MRI. 6 Months for a mammogram to check a breast lump. We waited four months for a specialist appointment for my newborn son.

That said, my son was treated with quick and astounding care when he was born with serious complications. He spent several weeks in Zagreb in the NICU  at the country’s best hospital – all expenses paid. The treatment of me was less than stellar (think plenty of tears and confusion),  but I never once doubted the care he was receiving.

He also spent a week in Zadar hospital, and I have zero complaints. Sure the place is old and run down, and I had to sleep overnight sitting up on a desk chair, but his medical treatment is what I would have received in Australia.

Roko in Zadar Hospital - Living in Hospital

If you have a job, your employer will pay your basic healthcare contributions, and you can also pay a small amount extra to avoid paying fees when going to the hospital or each time you go to the doctor or dentist. If you do not work, budget around 400 kune a month per person to pay for this.

BUT, and now this is the tricky part – getting access to this ‘free’ service (should you be eligible) is a royal pain in the ass. Leave around 2 or 3 days over three weeks to achieve the steps necessary to get access to this service, and then about another six months for your card to arrive in the mail.

My advice is to have a savings fund for emergency healthcare to go private. You can find blood tests, MRI’s, doctors, dentists, etc. all over the country that you can see fast, provided you have money in that pocketbook.

As a rough guide, we paid between 200 and 300 Kune per appointment for private doctors to see my newborn son to avoid waiting months for the hospital to get him into an appointment.

Pula, Istria. Driving Zagreb to Dubrovnik

Retiring in Croatia

Sigh. Yeah, yeah, Croatia is an excellent place to come to live out the end of your days. But really, where are all of the young families, singles, hard-working movers, and shakers? This aging country does not need any more grey-haired residents. #SorryNotSorry.

Travel

What a place to live. After five years of traveling this magnificent country, I can tell you, there is no shortage of things to do, and new places to discover. And, when you are bored with Croatia, we have so many neighboring countries just waiting for your euros.

Zagreb in Two Days - Croatia Travel Blog

Visiting new friends

You’d be hard-pressed to find any Croatian family where there is not an emphasis on family, friends, and with that food. Hospitality towards your guests is critical. Offering drinks, pre-meal snacks, a meal, a second helping, even third helping, cake, coffee, and then more drink to your guests is a must. Then your responsibility in return is not to decline… ever. Saying no would be plain rude.

To avoid being rude (or in some cases being nagged) here is what I suggest you do:

  • Take a small serving the first go, thus allowing plenty of wiggle room in your jeans for that second helping that you will be required to consume. Failure to heed this warning will see you having to hear over and over again how you are too skinny; you must be hungry and so on.
  • Your host may also use guilt to force you into a second helping. My favorite one (yes, I have become one of ‘them’) is “Oh, did you not like the food”? Boom! Host 1-guest 0.

If you have listened to this very sane advice, by this stage, you are still hungry, so when your hosts ask you to take another serving – you eagerly oblige. Everybody wins.

The tricky part is the third serving; you may want one, but chances are you’ve already indulged in two plates of  Kiseli Kapus and yummy ribe sa žara, so when that time comes you’ll need to be polite and say no thanks. If you want to show off, you can use the phrase “ne mogu više, hvala” which means you can’t take (eat) anymore.

Word of warning: be sure not to overuse this phrase, as your hosts may come not to believe you.

PLITVICE LAKES - Day Trips From Split

People

The same people in Croatia who will tell you that you look fat and gained 10 pounds are also the same people you can call when you need help. And you will need it.

Be warned that the Croatians are brutally honest – some too much so for my taste – but for the most part, you have to just roll with it. It will be worth it; my Croatian friends are worth their weight in gold – I treasure them dearly.

It is also the case that people can be such bullshitters. The plumber will tell you he will be at your house at 7 am, and by 10 am, (if you are extra lucky), and you are into your second cup of coffee, he will knock on the door like nothing happened. Either that, or he will show up, and have forgotten his tool, and say that he will be back tomorrow – which can quickly turn into a week. True story.

It’s always who you know. So network. You will have to ask a lot of people for references and help along the way. We never networked at the start; it seemed so fake. But now I realize, here in Croatia, that old saying rings true, it is not what you know – but who. Don’t fight it, just go with it.

Government Administration

You will have to do a lot of rubbish admin types jobs, just like you would any place in the world. But here, things are beyond disorganized.

While at government offices (and doctors), be warned. There are these breaks known as ‘pauza.’ Its when the whole place goes on a lunch break, and you just have to wait the 30 mins till they come back. Do your homework, find out when they are and avoid them like the plague.

If your request is out of the ordinary, or you need extra help, or the staff member is having a bad day, you’ll probably end up leaving in a bad mood and with nothing accomplished. I always now assume that I cant complete a task, and then if I do it’s a win. But, usually, when I do not, I take myself to a cafe and shake it off, and try again in a few days.

Tips For First Time to Croatia - Croatia Travel Blog

Racism

Racism in Croatia. I do not have any firsthand experience with it. I never confirm, nor deny racism rumors in Croatia on my blog, social media or in any form.  And I do not plan to start now. That said if you want to read a post which covers both sides of the topic I suggest you start here.

Croatia Expat Facebook Groups

 

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Comments (16)

  1. Hi, we’ll be moving to Zagreb from the US for 5 months next year and we have two kids, 6 and 5. Here in the US we homeschool and my understanding is that I do not have to send them to school in Croatia, is that correct? Thanks for your help!

  2. Hi, can you please help?

    My four questions:

    1) Will I be able to live comfortably in Zagreb on a $4,000 (USD) net-income per month pension?

    2) Is paying $800 (USD) per month for a one-bedroom apartment be considered “reasonable” in Zagreb?

    3) Is it reasonable to pay $12 (USD) per hour for a house cleaner/private cook in Zagreb?

    4) What “status” will I have, if any, for having a net-income of $4,000 (USD) per month?

    Thank you.

  3. Looking very serious at retirement in Croatia. My wife, myself and 24 year old daughter. In a town outside a big city. I have cancer and am worried about the care I can get here. Can you speak to the health care for me?

    1. In short. Don’t. This place isn’t for the sick. My husband is a cancer survivor and we have a get-out-of-Croatia fund in the awful event that his cancer comes back.

  4. Hi! Thank you for always posting such helpful information! My family and I are planning to move to Zadar from the US next year. We have been receiving contradicting information regarding the health insurance. I was told that we would need to pay 450 kuna per month per person (we are a family of 5). But then I was told by someone else that because we have our domovnica, we would be covered as citizens and would not need to pay. Do you know which is correct? We would need to plan for in our savings so any information would be helpful. Thanks!

    1. Do not quote me Jenni, but… my boys have their Domovnice – and the kids are free. But adults have to pay. Best of luck with the move. We love Zadar, and hope you will too.

  5. Thank you for always posting such helpful information! Our family is planning to move next year to Zadar from the US. I was getting contradicting information regarding the health insurance. I was told by one person that it would cost about 450 kuna per month per person (we are a family of 5). However, I was told by someone else that bc we both have our domovnica, we will be covered as citizens and do not have to pay. Do you know which is correct? We would need to plan for in our savings so any information would be helpful! Thanks!

  6. I am finding that there are not a lot of places in Eastern Europe that will accept an American pension as proof of income. Otherwise I would be there in a flash. Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary all want you to either be working or have your own business. It’s frustrating!

  7. Hey, Sarah Jane. I’m considering Croatia for retirement and wanted to ask what level of monthly income would be required to sustain two people comfortably ?

  8. Croatia is so beautiful, so mixed cultures, zagreb looks like little Vienna, and whole mediterranean coast is sc nice and clean. I’m in love with this country… :*

  9. Nice article.. However… When I come to live to the UK 11 years ago I also expirienced huge ” Cultural Shock” So many years after and I still can not comprehend some behaviour and culture… But definitelly I am delighted to live in country with NO Birocracy at all.. Well that is really really great!

    1. I have experienced the culture shock both ways and still do every time I visit the area. It is inevitable when you move from one place to another which has a significantly different way of life in some respects. It is just a break in habits and expectations but it does go to show how naturally inflexible we all are about our usual way of life. I even get surprised when I visit Croatia and things are more like in the UK than I remember – because it us unexpected. It’s still nice when some things haven’t changed much though, makes me feel more relaxed to be dealing with the familiar.

      Btw I was hoping to rent a place over winter somewhere quiet – is this possible or do people tend to close up over winter?

      Thanks for the great blog!

  10. I live in Brazil and i think cost of living is not so high. I was in Slavonia and i knew Zagreb, but i think was expensive but its good. Real is 2.5 more than kuna1 o/
    I want move soon to this paradise called Hrvatska.

    Hvala.

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